“In clusters at an early stage of development, it is possible to work with a core group of believers—say five to ten—and by giving them a vision of the framework, assisting them to make plans, and accompanying them in teaching and other acts of service, set in motion a process that will lead to sustained growth. One should never underestimate what a handful of capable tutors can do and how effectively they can respond to growth and raise up new human resources. The vital component of such an incipient growth program is an emphasis on teaching, which needs to be present from the start. Again, this is a key element of learning from clusters with intensive programs of growth. Those that have attained a healthy, sustainable growth pattern are characterized by a focus on teaching, in particular direct teaching, and not just on extending invitations to core activities. Where intensive programs of growth have stalled at a plateau of low numbers of enrollments, the dimension missing from the framework for action is direct, collective teaching.”
“Yet, although many admire your dynamism and ideals, the true significance of these endeavours is less apparent to the world at large. You, however, are aware of your part in a mighty, transforming process that will yield, in time, a global civilization reflecting the oneness of humankind. You know well that the habits of mind and spirit that you are nurturing in yourselves and others will endure, influencing decisions of consequence that relate to marriage, family, study, work, even where to live. Consciousness of this broad context helps to shatter the distorting looking glass in which everyday tests, difficulties, setbacks, and misunderstandings can seem insurmountable. And in the struggles that are common to each individual’s spiritual growth, the will required to make progress is more easily summoned when one’s energies are being channelled towards a higher goal—the more so when one belongs to a community that is united in that goal.”
“It is important to note that, as a programme of growth is being brought into existence, an emergent community spirit begins to exert its influence on the course of events. Whether activities are scattered across the cluster or concentrated in one village or neighbourhood, a sense of common purpose characterizes the endeavours of the friends. Whatever level of organization served to channel the early manifestations of this spirit, the systematic, coordinated multiplication of core activities necessitates that higher levels soon be attained. Through various measures, greater structure is lent to activity, and initiative, shaped largely by individual volition before, is now given collective expression. A complement of coordinators appointed by the institute moves into place—those for study circles, for junior youth groups, and for children’s classes. Any order of appointment is potentially valid. Nothing less than an acute awareness of circumstances on the ground should make this determination, for what is at stake is not compliance with a set of procedures but the unfoldment of an educational process that has begun to show its potential to bring about the spiritual empowerment of large numbers.”
A recent study by Oxfam provided some striking data regarding growing disparities of wealth and poverty within and between countries around the globe:
50% of the world’s wealth is now owned by 1% of the population.
This richest 1% has 65 times as much combined wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.
The world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.
10% of the population controls 86% of all the assets in the world, while the poorest 70% control only 3% of assets.
The amount of wealth hidden in secret tax shelters is estimated to be $18.5 trillion, which exceeds the entire GDP of the richest country on earth (US GDP = $15.8 trillion).
In the US, the richest 1% of the population captured 95% of new wealth generated after the 2007 financial crisis, while the bottom 90% became poorer.
The combined wealth of Europe’s 10 richest people exceeds the total cost of stimulus measures implemented across the EU between 2008 and 2010.
The report goes on to show that these growing income disparities are being seen in most democratic countries today and it attributes this trend to “political capture” – or the control of political institutions by the wealthiest segments of society, who are re-writing national and international laws and policies in ways that serve only their narrow self-interests.
Which raises an important question: what can be done to reverse these trends?
The Oxfam report suggest that “popular politics” – or the political mobilization or poor and working classes in support of progressive taxation as well as investments in education, health, and other public services – will be needed to reverse such trends.
I fully agree that progressive taxation as well as investments in education, health, and other public services are essential. But achieving and sustaining these kinds of advances will require much more than “popular politics.” This is because the underlying problem is, in part, structural.
Western liberal democracies are structured according to the logic of interest-group competition. When governance is organized in this way – as a contest for power – it will always be divisive and dysfunctional at best, oppressive at worst.
For reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere, electoral contests invariably invite the corrupting influence of money; they diminish the inclusion and participation of historically marginalized individuals or groups; they reduce complex issues down to manipulative slogans; and they ignore the well-being of the masses of humanity.
Stated another way, when governance is organized as a contest for power, it will inevitably result in political capture.
Popular political mobilization will, in exceptional historical circumstances, result in temporary advances for the cause of social justice and economic equity. But the long-term trends will continue to be characterized by the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer people – as the history of the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries abundantly demonstrates.
These trends cannot be reversed merely through popular mobilization within current political structures. They will only be truly reversed when the organizing logic of interest-group competition is replaced with a new structural logic, derived from consciousness of the oneness of humanity — or recognition of the organic unity and interdependence of the entire social body.
It is, therefore, toward the cultivation of this consciousness, and the construction of new models of governance that are coherent with it, that we need to bend our energies in the long-term, if we hope to truly reverse the deeply troubling trends identified in the Oxfam report.
Click Here to download a word document of the Houston Neighborhood Reflection Gathering Agenda.
Compiled by youth serving in three focus neighborhoods around Harris cluster, the agenda represents the questions that arise from experience by those laboring shoulder to shoulder, not in the abstract, with animators and junior youth in the field of service. Please reflect on these agenda items as a teaching team, prepare responses on the basis of your shared experience since the last reflection gathering, and divvy up the topics amongst your team members to encourage universal participation. Thoughtful reflections, stumbling blocks and how they became stepping stones, beautiful pictures and audiovisual presentations are all welcome! Looking forward to seeing you!
Harris County Cluster
Neighborhood Reflection Gathering
18:00, 8 Sultan 170 B.E.
Attendees: ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ __________ __________
(Agenda derived from consultation with indigenous and visiting youth who are serving at the grassroots in focus neighborhoods)
Each team please present an update on your experience and learnings since the last reflection gathering. Please share your team’s prepared responses to the questions below, having divided the questions up amongst the group members.
“O people of Justice! Be as brilliant as the light, and as splendid as the fire that blazed in the Burning Bush. The brightness of the fire of your love will no doubt fuse and unify the contending peoples and kindreds of the earth…”
Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. In this way evil galvanizes the forces of good that lead to its own destruction. Historically speaking, human experience creates the separation of good from evil, which in the fullness of time are one. For those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, see the end in the beginning, and the beginning in the end.
Favelas of Brazil: Adjacent Extremes of Wealth and Poverty
“Throughout the world, across all classes and social groups, there has been a ready response from youth who are invited to examine the forces shaping their society and their role in contributing to its constructive transformation through service as animators of junior youth groups. Time and again it has been seen that consideration of, and reflection upon, the profound concepts addressed in Book 5 of the Ruhi Institute release the deep reservoirs of commitment to significant social change that young people possess. Engaging their fertile minds in an exploration of such ideas gives rise to profound conversations that leave their mark and find expression in action. Those who are inclined to establish a junior youth group are assisted to do so, and in this way, the program’s reach in a town or neighborhood is expanded in a relatively short period, even if there are only a limited number of human resources available within the Bahá’í community.” – 14 November 2012, The Universal House of Justice
Forces – spiritual, social, intellectual, and physical – are irresistibly moving humanity. Towards what direction? Who are the protagonists of this movement? How can humanity’s inherent capacities be harnessed?
In the young people of the world lies a reservoir of capacity to transform society waiting to be tapped. How are these deep reservoirs of commitment to significant social change that young people possess released?
Look at the verbs: examine, consider, reflect upon, explore – what do they mean and how are they used? Look at the ideas: the forces shaping society, a youth’s role in contributing to society’s constructive transformation, the profound concepts addressed in Book 5 of the Ruhi Institute. Look at the outcome: a sense of two-fold purpose, to develop their inherent potentialities and to contribute to the transformation of society – through service as animators of junior youth groups. What are the means? Conversations and mutual assistance.
What are some forces shaping our society? Some, constructive and positive, include love for truth, thirst for knowledge, attraction to beauty, and unity. Some, destructive and negative, include materialism, self-centeredness, prejudice, and ignorance.
What are some of the concepts addressed in Book 5 of the Ruhi Institute? In addition to addressing the forces shaping society and a youth’s role in society’s constructive transformation, some other concepts include: coherence, two-fold moral purpose, the age of junior youth, spiritual perception, the dual-nature of self, language, the power of expression, hope, service, and empowerment.
Any serious attempt at civilization-building cannot ignore the role of young people in working with those younger than themselves, analyzing these forces, understanding these concepts, and taking on the identity of a life-long servant of humanity.
90 days after the completion of the Houston leg of the Historic 95 + 19 youth conferences around the world, a reflection gathering for youth was held in Houston (Harris County) cluster to reflect on experience gained through action based on plans drawn at the conference. One member of our teaching team shared the following powerpoint presentation summarizing features of the process, our experience, and some salient insights. Click on the presentation below, entitled “The Process of Growth” to follow along in your own cluster with what was done in Harris County to start a neighborhood movement with no prior indigenous contacts and no prior experience.
Hopefully some approaches, methods, and instruments employed will be helpful to others striving to implement the provisions of the Five Year plan in localities around the world. Amongst such helpful topics may have been: a systematic survey of residential areas near members of the teaching team’s homes or workplaces, the use of online resources such as google maps and city-data.org for surveying large expanses of population demographics quickly from behind a computer desk, tenacity in trying numerous neighborhoods before committing to one long term for junior youth program development, structured cycles of weekly action-reflection-consultation/study-planning is highly conducive to increasing teaching team intensity.
We also found it helpful to meditate on such phrases as this,
“Invariably, opportunities afforded by the personal circumstances of the believers initially involved—or perhaps a single homefront pioneer—to enter into meaningful and distinctive conversation with local residents dictate how the process of growth begins in a cluster.” ~Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010
“To follow a path of service, whatever form one’s activity assumes, requires faith and tenacity. In this connection, the benefit of walking that path in the company of others is immense. Loving fellowship, mutual encouragement, and willingness to learn together are natural properties of any group of youth sincerely striving for the same ends…” ~Universal House of Justice, 1 July 2013
Reflection on Junior Youth Group and Children’s Class 11/9/2013
After our expansion phase, which consisted of scouting 6 different neighborhoods in the Houston medical center area, and gauging the receptivity of indigenous populations to participating in the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, our teaching efforts advanced more rapidly in one neighborhood that exemplified certain characteristics we have come to associate with receptivity. Our neighborhood accurately represents the reality of a large majority of the world’s population. It is a humble place. The inhabitants are predominantly Spanish-speaking, 1st generation immigrant families, that have resisted urban decay and cultural disintegration in a modernizing world. It consists mainly of apartment complexes that are higher in density than a suburb. It is near downtown and the medical center where a number of young professionals are employed and can commute or home-front pioneer conveniently. The socioeconomic status is best described as working-class. Online census data helped in assessing transiency rates and, importantly, the density per capita of eleven-to-fifteen year olds.
We have established a Junior Youth group and Children’s Class in our neighborhood with a measure of consistency. Mindful that being systematic and process-oriented conduces to community building, our teaching team prefers humble efforts that are undertaken frequently, multiple times per week. Our process consists of weekly cycles of study, planning, action, and reflection. We have studied Messages from the Universal House of Justice, December 28 and Ridvan 2010. Since the burst of expansion, which strained every nerve and tested the resolve of our team, we have become more comfortable with a heightened level of intensity.
Our plans are to fortify the increase in ranks which we experienced as a result of the expansion phase. From the perspective of the educational process, this will entail the completion of our study of the workbook ‘Glimmerings of Hope’ with our Junior Youth group and the Lessons of Ruhi Book 3 for Grade 1 with our Children’s Class. Beyond curricula, insightful service opportunities are hoped to draw us further into the life of our neighborhood. Reading our reality, the identification of suitable venues for home-front pioneers to relocate and the recruitment of full-time youth year-of-service volunteers remains a significant landmark on our horizon. Multiplying the number of Junior Youth groups and core activities to include study circles and devotional gatherings from among parents and older siblings will raise indigenous human resources that can ensure the sustainability of the system. Empowering the masses to take ownership of their own material and spiritual destiny is the result of grass-roots capacity-building nurtured by a rhythm of community life proportional to an expanding nucleus of individuals committed to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a new World Order.
11/9/2013 – Gathering Our Community
11/9/2013 – Junior Youth Group: ‘Glimmerings of Hope’ Lesson Two: Ethnic Cleansing in Kibomi’s Village
11/9/2013 – Junior Youth Group: Consultation: Ground Rules
11/9/2013 – Ground Rules Contract with Signatures
11/9/2013 – Children’s Class: Coloring
11/9/2013 – Children’s Class: Story
11/9/2013 – Coloring and Prayer
11/9/2013 – Team Huddle
11/9/2013 – Sports: Boys Playing Football
11/9/2013 – Parents Supporting on the Sidelines
11/9/2013 – Sports: Dodge ball
11/9/2013 – Walking to Class – David, Anahi, Leisha
11/9/2013 – Nicholas
11/9/2013 – Beto & Anthony
In the Junior Youth Workbooks the protagonists of the story provide an archetypal character to which every junior youth participant who studies the story can relate–they see themselves occupying a similar physical stage of development and social status, enjoying the same recreational and educational activities, and expressing the same life-goals and aspirations. They see inner tendencies of their own mind articulated openly for the first time and explored. It teaches them implicitly to care for and value the environment in which they live by extolling the natural beauty and divine handiwork manifest in the landscape and environs surrounding them. It paints an archetypal picture of partisanship or special interests that corresponds to the various oppressions people experience around world in their own society–whether it be through political corruption, social and economic injustice, racial prejudice (institutional or personal), or tribal war. It teaches them about economic patterns that may characterize certain types of jobs being filled by members of a single racial group–that find parallels in the migrant worker population in the US. The text teaches them, nevertheless, to see the nobility in all people, and to recognize the simple, profound, and beautiful dignity inherent in acts of hospitality, and a culture that has resisted urban decay in the modern era. In this, it teaches junior youth to look beyond the employment and economic status of an individual or community to find its worth or identity. The workbooks also draw attention to injustice of a systemic nature, that oppresses the people. It focuses attention on the elitism of privilege and the inequalities of opportunity and access to resources that are written into law and institutional policy. It then brings this description down to a personal level by focusing the junior youth’s attention on the familial and psychological consequences on the home-life and cultural integrity of a community.
The questions after the story highlight the pattern of similar interests, dreams, partisan conflict, passive involvement in its consequences, and the first-hand effects at home–that characterize the experience of junior youth living around the world.
The prayer that follows draws upon this description of the reality of junior youth and introduces the concept of supplication before God for protection–protection from those forces and injustices that so vividly plagued the world of Kibomi, and find parallel in our own lives, in all our countries. In conjunction with protection from external forces of evil, we must also be aware and protect against the evil that comes from within. In a literal sense–the germs and bacteria that invade the body and can cause disease as well as in a spiritual sense–the ethical decisions our soul and heart make on a daily basis to ingest or avoid alcoholic beverages or fill our brains with knowledge instead of ignorance and prejudice. In response to each topic the question can be asked, did Dr. Joseph Lister’s discovery of germ theory save us all from a fate of chronic infection by advising us to wash our hands before eating? And does the presence of an exploitative fast food restaurant on every street corner imply that we cannot plant local farms or pursue healthier alternatives for our nourishment? Do emotional sentiments such as rage or intense jealously, so common in popular media, have a biological consequence on our organ function and health? Is a scientific approach to understanding the causes of public health diseases conducive to a cure?
With regard to the ease and prevalence of alcoholic drinking culture , the Junior Youth should be encouraged to think critically. Is abstinence from both experimenting with alcohol and from places and people who are drinking a reliable method of protection? Is knowledge and continual remembrance of the pathologies, both biological and social, directly linked to alcohol consumption an effective internal instrument for our own motivation–pathologies such as liver failure and encephalopathy, malnutrition and poor dentition, drunkenness and violence, adultery and rape, and DUI and vehicular manslaughter? Is understanding the exploitative financial incentives of brewing companies and entertainment marketers behind the misrepresentations of commercial advertisements a source of empowerment?
With regard to the esotericization of knowledge behind university walls and credentials of false-merit–a control over a narrow form of knowledge that allows elites to justify pacification and neglect of the masses–the junior youth are encouraged to question and not blindly follow custom. Does an inquisitive mind that pursues the reasons for things open new possibilities for achievement that could not have been known otherwise? Does a humble posture of learning or an egocentric habit of assertion conduce more to prosperity? Does education, especially in these primary years, serve a fundamental purpose of which the Junior Youth should be active and appreciative protagonists? Is a competitive culture that shames a student who asks questions conducive to learning, or a collaborative spirit in which inquiry is the method of mutual discovery?
Multiplying Core Activities
After our teaching team formed a group for the moral and intellectual empowerment of junior youth we realized that too many children were distracting the endeavors of the Animators and Junior Youth. The spectacle of the Junior Youth having fun was attracting their younger siblings to the site of the activities. This obstacle was transformed into a stepping stone. The children were separated into another group and formed a children’s class not far from where the Junior Youth were working. We understood that the Junior Youth group could serve as a stimulus to growth of a larger movement, however, what happened followed no predetermined course. One core activity was given precedence, multiplying at a rate faster than the others, and naturally attracted children from the community into another core activity. In this way, the multiplication of core activities was achieved, organically.
Visiting teams are being called upon to teach the children’s classes on the basis of the Ruhi Book 3 Curriculum, and add impetus to the fledgling set of activities emerging in the neighborhood. Irrespective of the specifics, the outcome will be the same. Within this neighborhood plans are being made to invite participants to study circles and devotionals from amongst the youth and adults. Ultimately, the level of cohesion achieved among the core activities must be such that in their totality, a nascent program for the sustained expansion and consolidation of the Faith is perceived. Envisioning the First Milestone: accompanying Indigenous inhabitants of the neighborhood through the sequence of institute courses and into the field of service as animators, children’s class teachers, and hosts of devotional gatherings–committed to the vision of individual and collective transformation they foster.
Junior Youth Group: Anthony Volunteers to Answer the Question, “What problems does Alcohol bring?”
Children’s Class: Memorizing “O God, guide me, protect me,…”
Empowerment of Girls: Areseli and Liesha explain why knowledge and education protect us from ignorance.
Collective Gathering: After playing Dodgeball the group gathers to divide into Junior Youth Group and Children’s Class
Reflection: In a humble attitude of learning, confident in the unfailing grace of the Almighty, joining hands to accompany each another in service to His Cause.
For the majority of the world’s inhabitant’s, living with injustice is a reality of daily life. Living with inferior opportunities, inadequate resources, and systematic prejudice doesn’t stop at the front door of people’s homes. It finds expression in the domestic violence of financially frustrated husbands, it manifests in the disrespect of youth towards their parents who cannot thrive in an english-speaking workforce. The signs of prejudice are apparent in the values of the race-specific conception of beauty inculcated in what is called the “white aesthetic” that foists caucasian (or caucasian-featured) models onto billboards and magazine covers. This parallels a rise in plastic surgeries that modify noses and eyes making them pointier and less “asian”. Is it possible for immigrant children not to doubt that they are beautiful when globalization projects the white aesthetic into their living rooms and schools on TV’s and billboards the world over? Locating liquor stores strategically in low-income neighborhoods is an exploitative intention that respects no boundaries of a family’s home or a child’s playground. The effect popularizing a culture of drinking is to generate profits for brewing corporations, at the expense of creating domestic violence, drunken disorderliness, adultery, and workplace hazards. The frustration of families unable to make ends meet due to low corporate wages ironically drives people to escapism and solace at the bottom of a bottle. The system of oppression reinforces itself, squeezing the working class of its financial and biological strength. The economic recovery in the US since the financial collapse of 2008 has generated wealth in the pockets of only the wealthiest one tenth of 1% of Americans, not the workers upon whose backs the labor and increased GDP depends.
Every 12 to 15 year-old, when asked the right questions, can identify injustices like these. Injustices that touch them or their families personally. Kibomi stands for an archetypal construct of our own struggles with racism, greed, partisanship, political corruption, violence, exploitation, and selfishness–and the effect of injustice on us personally. Kibomi represents the internal choice of each one of us, that we make in response to injustice. For the masses of humankind, who live on less than $1 a day and enjoy none of the privileges of western urban elites, responding to injustice is a daily choice. Kibomi lives in all of us. No one is free from the choice, because no one is free from injustice.
In the (true) story of Kibomi, Kibomi is a boy who witnesses the murder of his parents and destruction of his village by a racial group fighting for political dominance and economic self-interest. They terrorize and enslave a weaker and less privileged ethnic minority. He overcomes injustice by developing intellectual skills to analyze what he perceives, understand reasons for what caused it, and articulate spiritual principles to counteract those forces. Through spiritual transcendence he overcomes this injustice and with the weapons of understanding, the sword of utterance, and the force of spiritual ideals and righteous deeds he ventures to reverse the tide of injustice that has overtaken his nation. The story of his transformation is told in the workbook, “Glimmerings of Hope”.
Will Junior Youth in our nation resolve to become emblems of overcoming injustice and minarets of the transformation of our social order?
We pray, “O Lord! Make this youth radiant, and confer Thy bounty upon this poor creature. Bestow upon him knowledge, grant him added strength at the break of every morn and guard him within the shelter of Thy protection so that he may be freed from error, may devote himself to the service of Thy Cause, may guide the wayward, lead the hapless, free the captives and awaken the heedless, that all may be blessed with Thy remembrance and praise. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful.”
Image: [Iron Youngsta’s, Houston Junior Youth Group.]
A rhythm of community life gradually emerges commensurate with the capacity of an expanding nucleus of individuals committed to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a new World Order. As a program of growth is being brought into existence, an emergent community spirit begins to exert its influence on the course of events. A sense of common purpose characterizes the endeavors of the friends. Out of the occasional meetings of a few believers emerge the regular deliberations of an expanding core group of friends concerned with channeling into the field of service an increasing store of energy. The operation of spiritual forces in the arena of service becomes increasingly apparent, and bonds of friendship, so vital to a healthy pattern of growth, are continuously reinforced. The sequence of Ruhi and Junior Youth courses, which facilitate so effectively the process of transformation under way, are designed to create an environment conducive at once to universal participation and mutual support and assistance. The nature of relationships among individuals in this environment, all of whom consider themselves as treading a common path of service produces a fully fledged scheme embodying the inherent capacity needed to facilitate the efficient flow of guidance, funds, and information. The process of growth in the neighborhood conforms to the rhythm established by pronounced cycles of expansion and consolidation, punctuated every three months by a meeting for reflection and planning, and unfolding without interruption. The rise in the capacity of the friends to converse on spiritual matters and to speak with ease about the Person of Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation testifies that they have understood well that teaching is a basic requirement of a life of generous giving. The discharge of this fundamental spiritual obligation by the individual believer propels the steady increase in the tempo of teaching across the globe.
Since the time that the call was raised, 1996, a year that has come to be regarded as ‘Turning Point’, the Baha’i community has re-organized itself along a path being defined by a process of systematic learning based on an accumulating body of global experience in teaching work designed to open before humanity Baha’u’llah’s vision of a New World Order.
Guided by the unfailing hand of the Universal House of Justice, the community grappled with what seemed to be a torrential outpouring of correspondence from the Baha’i World Center (1996-2012), unmatched in volume heretofore, and as challenging intellectually as it was controversial within the traditional culture and beliefs that were long-held in the community. Whenever change occurs, and by the law of mutability it always does, it can be painful for a community with firmly established ways of doing things, and with inward-looking values that have guided their prosperity for generations.
After nearly two decades of perseverance and tenacity the Baha’i community can proudly conclude that it has embodied by and large the transformation enshrined in its supreme Body’s injunctions. The community has well in hand the understanding and practice of its expansion and consolidation. Few remain who are currently shaken by the swiftly changing landscape to which the Infallible Guidance and the onward march of history has subjected the community.
One may go as far to say that the old orthodoxy is the new heterodoxy, where outmoded ways of doing things are universally regarded by a generality of the population (who possess the language to articulate their differences) as having been replaced by a new prevailing paradigm–and this in less than 2 decades since Turning Point. Historically speaking, whole civilizations have shown less agility over millenia in adapting to changes of an evolving social milieu than the Baha’i community has done in 17 years. For example, the catholic church is experiencing its first stages of evolution in response to pressures from a modernizing society and an ever-advancing civilization. Without the infallible hand of the Universal House of Justice, it seems difficult to avoid utter disintegration of a community’s beliefs, scripture, and spiritual identity.
What more can the community of the Greatest Name ask this joyous teaching cycle? We bow our heads in gratitude before God. That the process is reproducible in locality after locality without direct exportation of relationships or personnel, that souls arising to serve do so spontaneously by the tens, attracted by the prospect of selfless sacrifice, and that the dialectic of crisis and victory characterizes ubiquitously the experience of every endeavor, melding hearts in love and bonds of friendship whose resulting unity is the very basis of success in teaching endeavors–this demonstrates time and again to every participant the divine origin of the process. Faith in God translates into faith in the guidance of the Universal House of Justice.
In the 1 July 2013 Message of the Universal House of Justice, that beloved Body draws a connection between an individual’s engagement in the process of civilization-building and that individuals own personal development. The Letter states,
“You, however, are aware of your part in a mighty, transforming process that will yield, in time, a global civilization reflecting the oneness of humankind. You know well that the habits of mind and spirit that you are nurturing in yourselves and others will endure, influencing decisions of consequence that relate to marriage, family, study, work, even where to live.”
The connection between devoting your efforts to community-building efforts at the grass roots and developing success in personal affairs, the House of Justice explains, lies in the qualities of mind and spirit that are developed in community work that are beneficial to personal affairs, and vice versa.
What qualities of mind and spirit do we think are beneficial to a fulfilling marriage? Patience, tact, wisdom, love. To happy family? Selflessness, integrity, faithfulness, devotion. To effective study? Discipline, consistency, humility, reverence. To fruitful work? Obedience, loyalty, honesty, dedication, innovation. To strategic choice of living location? Consciousness of the provisions of the plan, awareness of the exigencies of population demographics, perception of receptivity, and freedom from prejudice.
How does one develop patience, tact, wisdom, love? How does one develop selflessness, integrity, faithfulness, devotion? How does one develop discipline, consistency, humility, reverence? How does one develop obedience, loyalty, honesty, dedication, innovation? How does one develop consciousness of the provisions of the plan, awareness of the exigencies of population demographics, perception of receptivity, and freedom from prejudice? Can these be developed in a vacuum, by simply willing it to be so? Virtues, must be developed by habituation, by practice — virtue requires application.
From where can the will and opportunity to develop all these virtues be mustered? It does not seem possible that for the sake of things in themselves (marriage, family, study, work, home) that this will is effectively summoned. To wit, we submit the testimony of the unnumbered millions with failed marriages, families, academics, careers, and homes. Where can the will and training arena to develop all the qualities needed to succeed in personal milestones be found? The Universal House of Justice is proposing: in selfless service to the provisions of the 5 year plan the youthful individual positions him or herself success in all these things. The 1 July Letter states,
“In the struggles that are common to each individual’s spiritual growth, the will required to make progress is more easily summoned when one’s energies are being channelled towards a higher goal—the more so when one belongs to a community that is united in that goal.”
Serving a higher goal, the creation of a New World Order, allows one to summon the will necessary to develop virtues. In practicing consultation one develops patience. In composing e-mails one develops tact. In navigating delicate situations one develops wisdom. In sacrificing for others one develops love and selflessness. In upholding others trust one develops integrity. In making good on one’s commitments one develops faithfulness. In prayer toward the common good one develops devotion. In punctuality one develops discipline. In tenaciously pursuing goals one develops consistency. In maintaining loving relationships one learns humility. In learning one acquires reverence. In instant, unquestioning servitude to the institutions one develops obedience. In defending the Covenant and protecting others from those who would harm it one develops loyalty. In communicating efficiently one avoid lies and becomes honest. In enduring service one become dedicated. In problem solving one becomes innovative. In studying the guidance one learns the provisions of the plan. In scouting focus neighborhoods one learns population demographics. In teaching the Cause one develops perception of receptivity. In living with diverse cultures and socio-economic statuses one develops freedom from prejudice. Serving alongside comrades, sharing in their sorrows and delights, supporting them in their struggles and victories, further reinforces the will. The qualities of mind and spirit needed for success in personal affairs are all developed in wholehearted service to the community that is laboring for social transformation and the erection of a divine civilization.
Coherence is the state of being in which multiple separate things are nevertheless linked through the products of their processes that are not only beneficial for the success of others, but necessary for it. The byproduct of community building is the necessary nourishment of personal success. As such, though they are separate things, they are one, as an ecosystem has parts, and yet is still one. Though animals and plants are distinct kingdoms, yet animals depend upon vegetation for their nourishment, and trees in turn rely upon pollination and dispersal by animal carriers to continue their life cycle. As such, the coherence that characterizes the balance of an ecosystem, is not unlike the coherence that characterizes the relationship between an individual’s personal affairs and his or her dedication to social welfare and public advancement.
Clearly then, the cycle would not be complete if civilization-building alone contributed to personal development and did not receive from it anything beneficial. Success in personal development contributes invaluably to the process of community building. Community building could not be carried in the absence of personal successes of individuals. It would be to allege that the work of advancing civilization could be carried out by disembodied souls. Human society advances as the result of human beings.
What qualities does a fulfilling marriage, a happy family, a prosperous occupation, and a strategic home-front pioneering position lend to the process of civilization building? A fulfilling marriage unleashes the powers of mind and speech upon which so many relationships that inspire organized community efforts depends. A happy family can anchor an entire community by providing moral leadership, organizing influence, for various age groups of activities for others to join, and a gathering center for other families. A prosperous occupation serves the community, inspires respect, conduces to dignity, and draws one into the economic and political context of the society one serves. A well selected home front pioneering position, allows one to serve the best interests of receptive populations and establish pockets of social action.
Personal developmental achievements are dedicated to the operation of collective advancement, and striving for social change generates the qualities of mind and spirit that conduce to prosperity in individual affairs. Society cannot advance without individuals who are knowledgeable and capable of serving its needs, and wholesome family units with careers and social influence cannot be raised without engagement with society. Neither branch of coherence is acceptable without the other, for neither can subsist in the absence of the other.
Collapsing the dichotomy of the two-fold moral purpose is the secret to achieving coherence. This is the reality of coherence.
The worldwide Baha’i community is dedicated to a systematic long-term process of learning how to translate the principles of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah into reality and engaging more and more people in an “exploration of reality that gives rise to a shared understanding of the exigencies of this period in human history and means for addressing them.” The community’s activities are the current representation of this process of learning. The end goal: a world civilization that has achieved a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual requirements of life.
How do these activities relate to a world civilization? Let’s work backwards.
A world civilization that has achieved a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual requirements of life requires relationships that are completely reconceptualized and based upon the principle of the oneness of humankind – the relationships between and among individuals, communities, and institutions – as well as social structures that are based on fresh conceptions of justice.
Relationships based upon the oneness of humanity and social structures based upon justice require patterns of behavior and habits of thought that are founded upon an understanding of the spiritual nature of the human being: that justice is a faculty of the soul, and that the rational soul – a human being’s identity – has no gender, race, ethnicity, or class.
These patterns of behavior and habits of thought that strive to embody more and more the principles of oneness and justice – in other words, a change of culture – require patterns of community life that draw upon our common identity; a community that takes “charge of its own spiritual, social and intellectual development” and is “eager to improve [its] material and spiritual conditions”.
Creating such a community life necessitates certain foundational collective activities that will occur even as humanity matures into a world civilization, such as praying together, educating the young together, studying together and applying insights into action together, and reflecting and consulting together. These activities will never cease, only simply change form.
At various stages in the development of community life, one activity may flourish more rapidly. This should be strengthened, as an advance in one aspect of the community-building process will advance the whole. At our current stage of growth, the junior youth spiritual empowerment program has proven vital and beneficial to enhancing the entire scheme of community-building.
In order to develop the junior youth spiritual empowerment program, there needs to be strong animators – those older youth who work with junior youth groups – who “come to regard themselves as agents of social change”, “endowed with a twofold sense of purpose that impels them to take charge of their own spiritual and intellectual growth and contribute to the welfare of society”, and who can “examine the forces shaping their society and their role in contributing to its constructive transformation”.
This sequence of thoughts helps to show how service as an animator of a junior youth group is directly tied with contributing to the advancement of a world civilization.
National and Regional Training Institutes throughout the world offer a course called Ruhi Book 5, “Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth,” designed for the training of “Animators” who mentor youth between the ages of 11 and 14 years. Ruhi Book 5 builds the capacity of Animators to develop in junior youth the mental structures to weigh the world’s problems in the balance of advanced moral reasoning. It equips them with noble moral principles, together with the linguistic, mathematical, scientific, and social skills requisite for translating them in practice into their community, society, and institutions.
The resulting moral framework developed in the formative years equips junior youth to deconstruct, understand, analyze, and make constructive choices in life’s important decisions. Areas of transformation include: career choices, motivations for profession, reading comprehension and vocabulary, habits of effective study, mental acuity and mathematical precision, economic theory informed by social justice, engagement in environmental causes and civic service, nutrition and health care practices, dangers of substance addiction, and the potential of positive power through peer groups.
The junior youth program has 4 components: 1) study, 2) service, 3) sports, and 4) arts. The study curriculum has 4 strands: 1) language and expression, 2) living in society, 3) math and science, and 4) spiritual education. Each strand currently contains 2-4 sequential workbooks of increasing difficulty levels. The text of the Animator training course, Ruhi Book 5, contains within it a delicate balance of theory and practice, as all good training does, imparting knowledge culled from years of systematic experience that focuses the animator-youth relationship on challenging discussions stimulating novel thoughts in response to theoretical problems in a socially responsible context.
One of the major advantages of the Ruhi system of distance education is its concomitant development of knowledge in tandem with practice, as research study after study have shown that implementing a trade or craft in practice is far more efficacious for the development of skills, knowledge, and overall mastery than mere abstract memorization, for both vocational and professional employment. Training, largely absent from secular institutions of higher learning, generally relies upon official certification and licensing as a prerequisite to engagement in the profession of choice. Efficiency, however, would recommend that knowledge be developed in tandem with practice, and certification be democratized to include an expanding base of population to be available to the labor market and of service to humanity.
Amid the practical study and concomitant Animating of junior youth, a challenging series of economic questions in the context of social justice dilemmas encourages the youth to develop solutions to modernity’s most complex political and economic issues, at the level of policy discourse and their own personal moral choices.
A valuable insight into how this complex style of posing questions elevates the math/science and language curriculum into an advanced discourse on social, political, and economic quandaries can be found in the following article. The author dissects the intersection between the Ruhi Book 5 training course and the culture of consumerism and egoism (together with its historical and economic roots), and the ways challenges are overcome in the field by nurturing the minds and creativity of the next generation to heal the corrupt and disordered world of the 21st century.